THE GREAT AMERICAN READ: THE BRONX

September 19, 2018 at 5:00 am

When the Bronx literary scene found itself in a bookstore desert, one Bronxite stepped up to the plate by establishing “The Lit Bar.” Tonight we’ll take you inside.

For more information about The Great American Read click here.

Aired on September 18, 2018. 

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>> AS ONE BOOK CLOSES, ANOTHER
OPENS.
WHEN BRONX NATIVE NOELLE SANTOS
SAW THE LAST BARNES & NOBLE IN
HER NEIGHBORHOOD CLOSE ITS
DOORS, SHE SET OUT TO BRING
READING BACK TO HER HOME BUREAU.
SHE DECIDED TO OPEN AN
INDEPENDENT BOOK STORE IN THE
SOUTH BRONX.
A LOVER OF LITERATURE AND
COMMUNITY.
SHE MERGED THE TWO AND LAID
PLANS TO LAUNCH THE LIT BAR.
THE FIRST OF ITS KIND WINE AND
LITERATURE BAR.
WELCOME TO METRO FOCUS.
TELL US THE ORIGIN STORY OF THIS
BOOK STORE.
>> 2014 I WAS ON FACEBOOK,
WASTING MY LIFE AWAY, I CAME
ACROSS A PETITION THAT SAID THE
ONLY BOOK STORE IN THE BRONX WAS
IN JEOPARDY OF CLOSING DOWN.
I WAS ASHAMED OF MYSELF FOR NOT
KNOWING THAT, AND I DECIDED TO
STOP SIGNING PETITIONS, AND DO
SOMETHING ABOUT IT, STOP WAITING
FOR THE ADULTS IN THE ROOM TO
GET MORE PASSIONATE ABOUT
INTELLECTUAL VISIBILITY IN THE
BRONX.
>> YOU FIRST STARTED BY JOINING
A COMPETITION THAT THE CITY WAS
HOLDING FOR A SMALL BUSINESS
PLAN, RIGHT?
>> IT WAS A COLLABORATION
BETWEEN THE NEW YORK PUBLIC
LIBRARY.
THEY GUIDE YOU THROUGH THE
PROCESS OF WRITING A BUSINESS
PLAN, I CAME IN SECOND PLACE OUT
OF 360 NEW YORK CITY START-UPS
AND I TOOK THAT LITTLE BIT OF
BUZZ AND MADE A LITTLE MAKESHIFT
WEB SIDE AND STARTED
SELF-PROMOTING ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
>> WHEN THE BOOK STORE OPENS,
WHAT IS IT THAT PEOPLE CAN
EXPECT?
THIS ISN'T A TRADITIONAL BOOK
STORE, LIKE YOU SAID, IT'S GOING
TO BE A WINE BAR, BUT THERE'S A
FOCUS AT LEAST, OR AN EMPHASIS
ON THE COMMUNITY THAT IT'S IN?
>> I LIVE IN THE SOUTH BRONX
WHERE WE'RE MOSTLY AN
AFRICAN-AMERICAN POPULATION.
WE'RE EXTREMELY DIVERSE, AND I
WANT THAT TO REPRESENT IN MY
EVENTS.
IN MY HIRING PRACTICES.
I WANT TO LET THE COMMUNITIES
KNOW THIS IS FOR US, BY US, AND
THIS IS OUR COMMUNITY SPACE TO
MAKE THIS SPACE WHATEVER WE
WANT.
>> WHEN YOU SAY COMMUNITY SPACE,
I AM GUESSING THAT'S GOING TO
MEAN BOOK RELEASING EVENTS, ET
CETERA.
WHAT'S GOING TO BE HAPPENING AT
THE LIT BAR.
>> WHATEVER YOU FIND AT A
TRADITIONAL BOOK STORE, THE
READINGS, THE LAUNCH PARTIES.
THE TRADITIONAL BOOK STORE
EVENTS.
THAT'S WHAT YOU'RE GOING TO FIND
AT THE LIT BAR.
BECAUSE WE'RE A WINE BAR CAFE,
WE CAN SWITCH THAT UP AND WE CAN
HAVE NONTRADITIONAL EVENTS.
I'VE HAD SOME PEOPLE APPROACH ME
ABOUT DOING YOGA CLASSES IN THE
STORE.
WE CAN TIE ALL OF THAT INTO A
BOOK.
AND THAT'S SOMETHING I WANT TO
SEE YOUNG PEOPLE RECOGNIZE THAT
LITERATURE AND READING IS NOT
NECESSARILY -- IT'S NOT CORPORAL
PUNISHMENT, IT'S NOT -- YOU
KNOW, WHILE YOU ARE EXERCISING
YOUR MIND, READING IS A FORM OF
ENTERTAINMENT, AND YOU CAN TIE
IT INTO THESE OTHER INTERESTS
THAT ATTRACT YOU, AND YOU CAN
EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS IN BOOKS.
>> HOW WAS IT THAT YOU FOUND
YOUR LOVE OF READING BEFORE YOU
GOT TO THIS POINT OF BECOMING A
SMALL BUSINESS OWNER?
>> MY LOVE OF READING STARTS
FROM MY MOM, I WAS PRIVILEGED IN
THAT WAY, THAT MY PARENTS WERE
BOTH READERS.
MY BROTHER INTRODUCED A TREE
GROWS IN BROOKLYN TO ME.
I FELL IN LOVE WITH THE
CHARACTER.
YOU COULD NOT TELL ME I WASN'T
FRANCY IN BROOKLYN IN THE 1920s,
THAT WAS MY FIRST TIME SEEING MY
SEARCH IN ANOTHER CHARACTER,
SOMEONE WHO WAS UNLIKE ME.
AFTER THAT MOMENT, I STARTED
APPROACHING THESE BIG FAT TEXTS
WITH WONDER AND EXCITEMENT, AND
THEN MY PARENTS STARTED TAKING
AWAY MY BOOKS AS A FORM OF
PUNISHMENT.
>> IT WENT THE OTHER WAY ABOUT.
>> SOME MAY SAY, BOOK STORE,
MAYBE ONE IN THE BRONX, BUT
THERE'S NOT A MARKET FOR THAT.
IS IT REALLY WORTH INVESTING?
>> ABSOLUTELY.
>> WE ARE AN EDUCATED
POPULATION, WE HAVE TONS OF ART
AND TALENT, BUT THEY ARE ALL
UNDERGROUND.
I HAVEN'T SEEN THE INVESTMENT
LIKE OUR NEIGHBORI ING BOROUGHS
HAPPEN IN THE BRONX.
THAT'S NOT JUST LITERATURE,
THAT'S OUR ARTS, OUR EDUCATION
THAT IS -- WE'RE NOT JUST A BOOK
DESERT, WE'RE A FOOD DESERT,
THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS THAT
NEED TO BE ADDRESSED, THIS WAS
THE THING THAT STOPPED ME IN MY
TRACKS FROM LEAVING THE BRONX,
TAKING MY EDUCATION AND MY
RESOURCES OUTSIDE OF MY
COMMUNITY.
ME BEING A READER AND READING
BEING SO INSTRUMENTAL IN MY
DEVELOPMENT, THAT'S WHAT STOPPED
ME IN MY TRACKS TO STAY HERE AND
DO SOMETHING FOR MY COMMUNITY.
I THOUGHT IT WAS A POWER THAT I
WAS CONSIDERING LEAVING MY
BOROUGH IN NO BETTER CONDITION
THAT I FOUND IT IN.
>> NOELLE, THANK YOU FOR JOINING
US ON THE SHOW.
>> THANKS FOR HAVING ME.
>> WE CAN'T WAIT TO SEE THE LIT
BAR OPEN.
>> THANK YOU.
>> IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO HEAR
MORE ABOUT NOELLE'S LOVE OF
LITERATURE AND PARTICULARLY HER
FAVORITE CHILDHOOD BROOK, A TREE
GROWS IN BROOKLYN.
YOU CAN SEE HER SEGMENT ON THE
GREAT AMERICAN READ THIS
SEPTEMBER 18th ON YOUR LOCAL PBS
STATION.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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